Way back when in the #90s, pay phones functioned as communication hubs for the Great American Skate Plaza. At my old local, Shafer Court, you could call the pay phone and, nine times out of ten, a gentleman would answer “Shafer Court — as if it were a place of business! — and tell you if anyone was skating, who was skating, and such. The pay phone across the street from Pulaski and the one (if I recall correctly) by the Embarcadero Carl’s Jr. — same shit. These phones, working in conjunction with pagers, served as communication nodes for the culture.
Of course, as cellular phone technology evolved, this quaint element of skateboarding fell by the wayside. That is, until the advent of Instagram. Specifically, skaters started using this mad futuristic technology to A) document their scene, and B) provide skate nerds the world over with access to a culture that they would have otherwise envisioned solely in the Theatre of the Mind.
@Macbalife is one of the leaders in this field (at press time: 292k followers). We sat down with its creator to gain some insight into one of the most notorious spots on Planet Earth.
What is the single craziest thing — trick, event, or something totally random — that you’ve ever seen at MACBA?
There was one random guy from France who came over here to stay with his friend. One day, he was trying to switch backside flip the big gap — from where the letters are to the road. He had switch backside flipped the blocks like a week before. He was like, “Okay I’m gonna try it on this one.” And he crashed into the trash can.
Nothing happened to him on that slam, though.
Do you recall the first time you ever went there?
I’m from Cadiz, and I started skating when I was nine. Around 2001, Barcelona was growing and growing — the scene and the spots. I wanted to go there so bad. So I was working in Chicago, and I saved some money and flew back to Spain. The next month, I took a plane up to Barcelona.
The first time I went there, Bastien would do a line, everything first try, and then come back and do another line, everything first try. Flip used have a house; Bastien was killing it. Another day, Danny Way backside 360’d the four block; I was like “Fuck, everyone’s here at once.” I couldn’t imagine so many pros skating around. I was tripping. So in 2003, I went back to Barcelona for holidays, and I saw my homie from the south of Spain who was already living there. I was finished with college, so I stayed.
What made you start the @macbalife Instagram?
One Sunday about four years ago, it was 2 P.M. I was lying in bed, so fucking hungover, checking the ‘gram. All I see is MACBA, MACBA, MACBA. I was like “Fuck, let’s put the whole thing together. What can I call it? Macbalife.”
I made the email and the account right there. The first post was Fran Molina, and my first thing after posting that was that the account would only last like six months because the footage would be over. I created the hashtag so more people could see it. I got 10k the first month; after the first year, I had 100k. At the beginning, I posted some really old VX footage that wasn’t on the ‘gram. There was a lot of old footage coming back, new guys coming around and using the hashtag to be featured, and it became like a snowball.
Right now the hashtag has like 33k or more. I have to select; can’t post everything I get.
“When I traveled when I was 15, and someone was wearing DVS, éS or DC — that’s your homie. You didn’t even have to ask ‘do you skate?'”
How you pick out what to post?
I wanna show people what’s going on at MACBA; I don’t only want to show pros. I might post a random guy dancing or just a single trick on the flatground. The feeling of where skateboarding was born: in the street. It’s about having fun, not about sponsors or competing. It’s like, having a beer, hanging out, knowing people all around the world. When I traveled when I was 15, and someone was wearing DVS, éS or DC — that’s your homie. You didn’t even have to ask “do you skate?”
I wanted to show the people, because there is no place like MACBA with 300, 400, 500 people every day skating there. Actually, I don’t know maybe there is, like in Sao Paolo. The good thing about MACBA is that it’s not only about skateboarding. It’s about hanging out, knowing the people. There are artists taking photos, and random people having a beer or just seeing what’s going on there. It’s street culture. Good ideas come from there, for sure.
What were Spanish and European skate media like before the internet?
Kingpin Magazine was the main one. I used to shoot photos for Kingpin. Dogway was and still is the main skateboard magazine here in Spain. I started my skateboarding “thing” taking photos. I learned from the best: Seb Rubio and Alberto Polo.
Do you think it’d be possible to have the same level of resonance with another spot?
Maybe a year after I started Macbalife, many people texted me like “Hey, your page really inspired me to make an Instagram about my hometown spot.” The first time I read that, I was like “Wow, I inspired people, wow.” It’s crazy. Actually, some guys from Argentina and Chile started an Instagram for their most famous spot in Buenos Aries, and the logo is almost the same. I’m really cool with them; I don’t take it like “Oh they’re copying me.” I’m like “So good bro! Take your thing and make it happen.”
“Alright, we’d rather have skaters than thieves.”
Are there any explicit differences between how the younger generation skates the spot and how the O.Gs skate it?
[Javier] Sarmiento just moved from here like a year ago, but the younger generation here fucking respects them. Sarmiento, [Daniel] Lebron and Jesus [Fernandez] were hanging out at MACBA everyday all day, they all fuckin’ respect them. Sarmiento is like a genius. He can do whatever he wants whenever he wants. He can play guitar, he can play golf, he can do whatever he wants.
With so many amazing spots in Barcelona, why do you think MACBA has endured after all the years? What’s different about it?
Like I told you before, MACBA is not only skateboarding — it’s a meeting point. There are a lot of girls hanging around, beer is one Euro. It’s more people outside skateboarding hanging out. You meet at MACBA at eleven, go hit the spots all around — not only Barcelona, but Badalona, whatever — then you come back around seven or eight to finish the session. Maybe you play a game of S.K.A.T.E, have a couple beers, have dinner, then go party or go home. It’s the meeting point for the start and the finish.
How do you think the museum views skaters?
The museum banned skateboarding at the top back in the day. So there were a lot of thieves around. But when the skateboarders were around, they didn’t get anything. So they said, “Alright, we’d rather have skaters than thieves.”
What other subcultures call MACBA home? How do the skaters interact with them?
Back in the day — maybe like ten years ago — I had been living with Lebron, Jesus, and Javi. Lebron, any time he saw a BMX guy, he was like: “You. Out.” Or if someone was leaving shit around, he’d be like “You. Take your shit.” Lebron was pretty mad about people messing around. He’d been living in the States for so long that he knew how things work. The police can take away a spot at any time. He was kind of the skateboarding police, keeping people in line.
But now, there are so many people there that we can’t really do that. At the three block, they have an open mic contest every Saturday — it’s fucking huge. So the blocks are for those guys on Saturday nights. At the end of the big ledge, there are people breakdancing all the time. It’s not a skatepark — it’s a lot of shit happening, so we have to respect each other and that’s it. But the BMX guys break the ledges; that’s why Lebron was so hard with those guys.
“They’re in the bubble and they see so many good skaters around that they level up higher and higher every day.”
Who are your top 3 MACBA skaters of all-time?
For sure, Sarmiento. He’s one of those guys who can see a trick and make it first try. Bastien back in the day, like in 2001, was doing lines from the top to the five stairs in the back. Also, Lebron is like the mayor. From Barcelona, Enrique Lorenzo was one of the first guys skating MACBA.
Who are some newer rippers that are on the come-up?
You know the good thing about here? You see some new guys and they’re just random skaters, but they’re in the bubble and they see so many good skaters around that they level up higher and higher every day. They have crews here, but they all respect each other: FTC Crew, Rufus Crew, Amigos Crew. They have like four, five, or six guys on each crew, and all of them are rippers. Another good thing is they’re in the point of view of worldwide skateboarding, so they make trends and new tricks.
Are there any rules to MACBA that first-time goers should know about?
First rule, not only for skateboarding, is respect. Just respect each other and be cool. Like, an old man can sit down there [on the ledge]. You can ask him to move, but if he doesn’t want to move? Okay. Or if you’re trying a trick and your board shoots out, just say “Hey! Look out!” to the people around. Just be respectful.
What’s the MACBA beer of choice?
It’s not my favorite, but what the Pakistanis sell is Estrella. They freeze them to be cold when they sell them to you. They know exactly how to do it so the cans don’t explode. They also put it under the floor. For me, it’s Estrella Galicia [Ed. note:
it’s gluten-free!], but whatever, everyone has their own beer.
What was the deal with the #savemacba thing that popped up on Instagram a few months back? Is the spot in danger?
A friend of mine is an architect, so he’s working a little bit with the local government. He called me one time and said a guy from the city government called him to make a proposal to change MACBA and all the plazas to be unskateable. He was tripping, like “I can’t do that; I’m a skater.” So he proposed to talk to the museum, the skaters, and the local bars at a roundtable to figure out another solution. The government guy said, “Ok, I’ll give you two months.”
At the first meeting with everyone, I told my friend “Hey, let’s do something now. Don’t wait for all these people.” So I started the #savemacba thing — made a poster and started the campaign by myself. I didn’t want it to be “my thing,” though. It was about MACBA. We made proposals: if you skate after ten, you get a ticket. The thing is that MACBA is a crossroads. There are tourists going back and forth with luggage to catch a plane, and there are about 70 bars in the area.
We’re going to have a meeting with the government in the next two weeks, then we’ll see the status because they’re about to have a vote about the new government. So when they have more information about that, they’re gonna hit me up and we’ll have a new meeting. Right now, it’s cool: you can skate from 7 A.M. to 10 P.M.
Any plans for the future?
We’re gonna do the “Back to the Four” thing again with Volcom. It’s gonna be huge, with like more prize money. Because the new generation has never skated the four — just the three — we wanted to bring back the extra block and make a contest. Then, we’re gonna launch a collab at Back to the Four. Not only that, I want to make it something for the neighbors, for the kids, for everyone. I don’t want to just make a skateboarding contest; I want to make a day for everyone and involve the people who hang around the plaza.
Thanks to everyone for the respect. I also want to make a call to everyone to be respectful, enjoy yourself, enjoy your family, enjoy your brothers, because they aren’t going to last forever.